Anne Bahr Thompson is the founder of the brand consultancy Onesixtyfourth and the former executive director of strategy and planning at Interbrand. I recently had the chance to meet her when she visited the UK to promote her new book Do Good[i].
This had struck a chord with me as it was the theme for my year as Master of the Worshipful Company of Marketors in 2016 which I had written up in my book Marketing for Good is Good Marketing[ii].
So I gave her a copy of my book in return for a copy of hers.
Through her consultancy she has conducted thousands of consumer interviews over the past few years and her book is based on these. She has found that in general people are drawn to companies with a higher purpose and so they reward them with their business. In every region of the US, age group and socioeconomic level, customers connect with brands that care about them, their values, and the world at large. They’re more committed and less price sensitive to companies that ‘do good.’
But doing good is not just a one-time attention-getting effort. It’s an ethos that permeates every aspect of an enterprise, from how it delivers products and services to the way it treats employees, the community and the environment. People see good citizenship in companies like Apple for making communication easier, or Walmart for making life more affordable. When they become aware that a company has done bad rather than good they don’t rush to judgement but rather watch to see how the company deals with the problem. Thus they admire Nike and H&M for improving their overseas labour practices and channelling funds into positive efforts: athletic shoes for people with disabilities, or grants for environmentally sustainable fashion.
Ms Thompson has coined the phrase ‘Brand Citizenship’[iii]
for the model she recommends companies adopt if they aspire to cultivate the qualities that customers demand. The research was mainly conducted in the US but Ms Thompson lived in the UK for ten years and uses several British examples of companies that do good, particularly John Lewis.
She quotes leading investors like Larry Fink of BlackRock and Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan who support her argument that doing good is no longer a cost, it’s an investment. But Brand Citizenship is not a ‘to do list’, it’s a journey. She recommends Five Steps, but they are not a fixed formula. And it is not conducted in a vacuum, but in a competitive market place and if your competitor raises the bar, you have to respond.
Step 1: Trust – Don’t Let Me Down
Trust is the starting point, not the endgame, for brand loyalty. Five characteristics are essential for earning lasting trust from customers, employees, and other stakeholders; clarity, reliability, sincerity, reciprocity, and active listening.
Ms Thompson’s extensive research was based on two lines of study. Firstly to name the brands that were liked and then to rank them. The result is strongly positive and she concludes that ‘brands that are clear about how they advance society, that integrate sincere practices into their marketing and operations, and that turn ethics into results exemplify good Brand Citizenship. They do well by doing good and they will always be touted as leaders.